Wednesday, 8 June 1988
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Connor: Prior to reporting progress I was speaking about section 4 (3). We said that this subsection was too restricted, given all the bewildering changes in the agri-food industry over the last ten years and that one can expect a more rapid rate of change over the next ten years. Who can say where the CAP will be within the coming decade? Many feel that it will be gone and possibly replaced  by aids and transfers to the agricultural industry from the Structural Fund. The integrated rural development fund is to be the new frontier, or so we are told. This will mean a completely new approach to sustaining agriculture based more on degrees of disadvantage and, on the other hand, market demands and trends.
The greater part of the problem with agriculture in Europe and perhaps worldwide is the ignoring of the economic rules of comparative advantage or the economic principle of comparative advantage. That has to change. As far as Ireland is concerned, we will be compelled to make more appropriate use of the land we have. What I mean by that is that we must have cereals where there should be cereals, milk production where there should be milk production and trees where the land used should be forestry. In future years, I feel sure we will have need for a land classification policy, a new classification programme for our farmers by enterprise, by size of farm and a whole new market analysis. All of this will be necessary under the changes as we shift from the agricultural fund and the Common Agricultural Policy to the Structural Fund. We were hoping that the Minister might broaden the scope under subsection (3) of section 4 by allowing a greater degree of consultation on policy formulation with ACOT prior to the making of any policy decisions.
Without prejudice to the generality of subsections (1) and (2) Teagasc shall, in performing its functions, have particular regard to the need for and the importance of agricultural training and education for young persons and research and development in relation to food processing and the food processing industry.
This is extraordinary terminology to use, because when you talk about young people it really is a type of aspiration rather than something that should be included in statutory legislation. It is  aspirational and something that we would all agree with. We would all agree with the aspiration that we should attach importance to the training and education of young people but it is rather extraordinary language for a parliamentary draftsman to use. I will expect, at the end of the year, to see a kind of reporting procedure or an annual programme that might be presented by the board as being one of the objectives that they aspired to or had achieved. Certainly this is unusual and the Minister might like to clarify it. This point was made in the other House also and I want clarification in this House as to what exactly we are talking about by using that terminology.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Kirk): The specific references in this section to the training of young farmers and to research in relation to food processing and the food processing industry is really to reflect the importance which the Government place on these areas. As I am sure the Senator is aware, the Government in their strategy for national recovery have clearly identified the food industry as being an area with considerable potential for development. Many a time in this House and indeed, in the other House, the shortcomings of the underdevelopment of the food industry have been touched on. There is scope in section 13 for Teagasc to put forward in their annual programme of activities any such matters that they decide should be given special attention. In present circumstances the amendment proposed here is not necessary.
Mr. Connor: We are not happy that the provisions under this section are wide enough for future policies. The point we have been trying to convey is that over the next ten years there will be bewildering changes in the whole area of agriculture and policy changes will have to be in line with the changes outside and the changes that are taking place in the marketplace, etc. We are asking the Minister to add on “and any further matters as may be decided, with the consent  of the Minister”. This relates to policy-making, etc. We find that the section, as in the Bill now, is good for this time but we feel it is not good enough for the future, given the kind of change that we must expect, looking at the experience of the last decade.
Who, for instance, is going to carry out the major surveys and major background work that will be needed if we are to move from the Common Agricultural Policy and the Agricultural Fund to aids and transfers under the Structural Fund? I said that possibly we would need a whole new land classification programme. We will possibly need a whole new programme for classifying farmers. We will probably have to classify the whole country in terms of comparative advantage. Certain areas of the country will be in the area of the production of milk, certain areas will be in the production of cereals and there will be areas — my own area would be typical of this — where we will have to have trees because they are the only appropriate enterprise in these areas.
I pointed out in my earlier submission that a great part of the problem of agriculture in this country, in Europe and indeed worldwide, has been the inappropriate use of the natural resource, the land itself which we have — inappropriate enterprises, crops or whatever in the wrong places. If we are to move on, the framers of policy know this now, and future policies certainly are going to take into account to a far greater degree the principle of comparative advantage. That means major adjustment policies for us. We feel that the scope of this Bill should be wide enough to include power within it to make as-wide-as-possible new policy changes or to suggest them and that ACOT and the research sector should have that power to do so and to make these suggestions and they should not have their hands tied because the scope of this section is not wide enough. Otherwise, we may have to come back in four or five years, in a piecemeal way, to add on a new section to the Bill to give them the kind of powers necessary to  carry out new investigations, or classification or to carry out new programmes.
In a passing reference to amendment No. 16, which you have ruled out of order, may I say I am rather disappointed that your ruling has gone this way. I am not questioning your ruling. I was concerned about the inability of some sectors, small farmers, particularly, who might have been unable to pay the actual charges that the board of Teagasc would lay down. This was a way in which the board could indemnify those who are unable to pay, or set down some kind of——
Mr. Ferris: This amendment No. 17 follows what is the acceptable form in the country for the filling of any vacancies, particularly a vacancy on a body as important as this. It is important that it would be open competition to allow in the best  possible brains in the country that might have a leaning towards becoming a director of what will in fact be a very important joint board in the future. In saying that, on the previous occasion I paid my respects to the existing directors of the two boards, Dr. Liam Downey and Professor Ryan and expressed my appreciation of their work. I have the greatest admiration for both men but I am sure they would feel that neither one of them would want to be offered a voluntary redundancy while the other would get the post remaining. It was to meet that situation that I felt the filling of this vacancy should be open competition. I have no doubt that if either of these two men compete in an open competition their knowledge and expertise will in itself be of tremendous benefit to them. I want to ensure that there is fair competition for this very important post. I would commend this amendment to the Minister for consideration. I know that the next amendment, in the names of Senators Connor and Bradford, is of a similar nature. They will deal with their own wording but I am anxious to ensure that this vacancy and any future vacancy would not just be a political appointment by the Minister but that it would be open to competition to allow the best brains to compete for an important post.
Mr. Connor: I, together with Senator Bradford and Senator Hogan, have put down an amendment similar to that put down by Senator Ferris, Senator O'Shea and Senator Harte. We have absolutely no quibble between us. The only difference is that our amendment addresses itself to the appointment of the first director of the new body while the other amendment refers to future appointments. We on this side of the House cannot understand why it is not provided in the Bill that this post be filled by open competition. The Minister of State was not present in the earlier part of the day but the Minister himself was here. At suggestions that this body might not be independent, it is true to say, with the permission of the Cathaoirleach, that the Minister became quite angry. We were  making the point that the Agriculture Institute itself is very famous for its publications and that the integrity and independence of these publications is well established and well known. We expressed our concern that, with the drawing in of this new body under the greater control of the Minister, it would interfere with their independence. The Minister's reaction to all of that was that it just could not be and it would not be.
One of the reasons why we are fearful — we are not saying that the present Minister might have certain designs in mind — is that, if this particular question is not resolved, it certainly leaves it open to a future incumbent of the office to exercise a political control over the new body. We are asking the Minister to eliminate any suggestion by anybody that there could be political intrigue in the appointment of the director and to accept our amendment which asks that it be done after open competition, which is the normal practice within the Civil Service and throughout the public service and in the private sector generally. Acceptance of this amendment by the Minister will go a long way in reassuring those people, including myself and Senator Ferris, who have misgivings about the independence that existed in the Institute and in ACOT being lost.
Mr. Kirk: In the appointment of the first chief officer of any new State-funded body it is normal to provide in legislation that the Minister would reserve the right to make the appointment. I think that the Senators will agree that previous experiences in this regard have proven that the right decisions have been taken. The Minister has overall responsibility for the agricultural industry; he has, as it were, been through the legislation; he spent a considerable amount of time teasing out and discussing this legislation in the other House before it came before the Seanad. At this time his appreciation of what is required for the position is very considerable. It is fair to say that his judgment in the matter can be trusted. It is essential that the power of appointment  of the chief executive should remain with the Minister.
Mr. Ferris: While I accept that in the final analysis the Minister would make the formal appointment, because it is a board that will be subject to Government policy and the development of Government policy and indeed of national policy in the area of agriculture advice and research, I would like to ask the Minister of State what kind of procedure will the Minister adopt in arriving at a group of names from which he will make his final decision? I take it that he will not do it in an ad hoc way, that he will have to have some regard to people with existing expertise in this area or that he will have a panel from which he will make his final choice. I know that Government in the past have always defended their right both to appoint and afterwards to defend the appointees. This was not always accepted by this Government when they were in Opposition as being the right way to do it. In fact, some of the best known appointees to agencies like the Youth Employment Agency and other agencies were the subject of the severest criticism from this Government when they were in Opposition on the basis that this was jobs for the boys or that political considerations were taken into account.
What we are trying to ensure is that no such accusation can be made in regard to the appointment of a director for a body that will be dealing with the most important economic section in the country, agriculture, and which will be carrying out the policy set down by Government and by the Houses of the Oireachtas. That body should be above and beyond reproach, it should be beyond criticism. The farmers and all the staff who will remain in the new body should have regard and respect for the newly-appointed director. I am now asking the Minister of State to tell to us what procedure he will follow, to whom will he turn for names. Surely he is not going to ring up the local cumann to find out if they have anybody who would be recommended. I know he is above that, but  that is exactly the accusation that will be made. What a tragedy it would be for a body such as Teagasc to have that kind of tag put on it. We have two experienced people in the two existing boards. I would be hopeful that, without prejudice, if they offered themselves, one of them would be successful. I also believe that they would like to compete with other people because their success would be in open competition with their colleagues or peers for the particular post. I hope Teagasc will be above and beyond reproach and that is the only reason I wanted this enshrined in the legislation.
Mr. Connor: I am disappointed with the Minister's response. I do not doubt at all the Minister of State's sincerity in the reply he gave. We made the point earlier today that it was a great pity that the name of this Bill has not been changed. One of its difficulties in getting off will be its very name. Do not give it another major difficulty — that its director was not appointed by a system that is above reproach. The director of this body must be seen to be like Caesar's wife, above reproach. The director must be the very best man possible because he has a major job of work on his hands. It is not just his responsibility to the new organisation, to staff etc; it is the responsibility this man will have to this nation. Agriculture in this country is in serious trouble. The national cattle herd is in serious trouble, the national pig herd is in serious trouble, the dairy industry through no fault of our own is in serious trouble——
Mr. Connor: One of the instruments we must use, a Chathaoirligh, to get ourselves out of this difficulty is our research and advice body led by the very best man possible. We believe the procedure for choosing that man is not the very best there is and we are appealing to the Minister to ensure that there is total confidence from day one and that the  appointment is made by open competition.
Mr. Ferris: Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether there is a panel system? Can he tell us what sort of remuneration category this post will be put in? Can we get an idea what the Government consider this post is worth?
Mr. Kirk: I really do not think it is appropriate that we should go into the details that Senator Ferris has referred to. On the question of leaving oneself open to the allegation that you go the cumann for a recruit, I do not think that will arise in this case. The realities are that the Minister for Agriculture and Food is the political head who is answerable to the agricultural industry and, in  turn, he will be answerable to the taxpayers of this country. I think it is fair to say that his judgment and his decision in the matter will be taken to be in the very best interests of the agricultural industry and indeed with the very best interests of the taxpayers at heart. The role that he fills and the responsibility he carries pretty well ensure that the right decision will be taken in the matter when it comes to the question of the appointment of the chief for the new body.
Ross, Shane P.N.
|Bohan, Edward Joseph.
Haughey, Seán F.
Ó Conchubhair, Nioclás.
Amendment declared lost.
Question proposed: “That section 7 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Ferris: I had an amendment down which the Chair ruled out of order on the basis that it would involve a charge on public funds. It was in connection with adding a new section. Although it was ruled out of order, may I say that our reason for looking for a waiver for charges to be initiated by Teagasc was to allow an opportunity for some categories of farmers to be excluded for charges in the future? This was made on the basis  that there could be cases where advice might be needed and where, if the new board did not have this section or something like it written in, hardship could arise. I felt that by allowing a waiver scheme for some categories, the additional charge that would arise from that would be borne not by the public at large which you have ruled on, a Chathaorligh——
An Cathaoirleach: I am a bit confused, Senator Ferris. I did rule on it. Are we now discussing it?
Mr. Ferris: We are not. I want the Minister to respond to the concept of what I had here and which you ruled out of order. The board will need some direction about how, in future, they will operate the charges which are included. I know the direction that has already gone out to ACOT staff, that in one year they have a particular allocation to be collected, the next year it will be greater and then greater still. At the end, we will find that only those who can afford advice will get it. I am concerned about advice and research being available to ordinary people who may not be able to afford it but may still need it. The Minister might be generous enough to reply to the worry I have in this area.
An Cathaoirleach: We did not debate it, but perhaps the Minister might wish to make a passing reference to what the Senator has said. We are nearly debating the amendment.
Mr. Hussey: The amendment was ruled out of order.
Mr. Ferris: I will discuss it on the section dealing with service charges, if you like.
An Cathaoirleach: We have passed that section, Senator.
Mr. Ferris: Perhaps the Minister might like to respond.
Mr. Kirk: I have certain difficulties with it. Obviously if the Chair has ruled it out of order the question of getting involved in any prolonged debate about it poses its own problems. The question of the difficulties of people who might have problems as regards finance, farm size and so on and their requests for advice will be in the hands of the Minister. I am sure if the situation arose where there were difficulties in that regard he would take the necessary action.
Question put and agreed to.
Mr. Ferris: I move amendment No. 19:
In page 9, subsection (1), between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following paragraph:
“(c) Teagasc shall from time to time determine the qualifications, grades and conditions of service of Teagasc and the subsidiary.”.
This is to ensure that we tighten up for the new board, by way of legislation, the qualifications they may lay down for particular grades of people. I am concerned that we have a wealth of talent available to us from the existing two agencies. I am concerned also that many of them have opted for voluntary redundancy which will decimate the service. I know that the budgeting has gone wrong because sufficient people have not opted for reduncancy. I am anxious that in future the new board will have some guideline to determine qualifications of particular grades. We had a new grade within the ACOT advisory service which was about the only means of promotion available to agricultural instructors. This was agreed after long and protracted discussions and negotiations. We put it into place and it was accepted by the staff concerned. This amendment is to try to ensure that in future the new board will have a facility to determine the qualification of certain grades they will require.
Mr. Connor: Do I take it that is an amendment to section 8 of the Bill?
An Cathaoirleach: Amendment No. 19 to section 8.
Mr. Connor: I cannot find paragraph (c).
An Cathaoirleach: It is to insert a new paragraph (c).
Mr. Kirk: This amendment would remove effective ministerial control on numbers, grades, pay and conditions. The necessary adjustments which are being made in the whole area of public expenditure and the need for central control in these matters graphically illustrate the necessity to retain ministerial control in this area. If the amendment were to be accepted and incorporated into the legislation, the implications for the overall control would be very considerable indeed. The knock-on effect would be quite disastrous. It would be a very unsatisfactory situation so far as the Government and the Minister of the day were concerned.
Mr. Ferris: I am extremely worried now that the Minister is going to interfere a lot with the board of Teagasc and this is something I thought would not happen arising out of this legislation. I thought that once the board were given their allocation of funds they would carry out the job. We are now going to determine for them, in advance, a kind of policy decision about grades and conditions of services which would normally be applicable to people in the Civil Service within a Department. This is not a Department. This body will be set up with a specific budget within which they will have to live, as did ACOT and AFT. Now they do not even have the right to determine the grades they will require to have, the qualifications of people filling the grades, or even some indication of the conditions of service.
There is absolutely no incentive for anybody to work for this type of board. It will be as easy for them to stay in  the Department of Agriculture and Food where all these constraints are operated by the Minister anyway. I felt that it was not an unreasonable additional paragraph to put in. Now the Minister has confirmed not only my worries but the worries of all those employed by the two boards. It was in consultation with them that we decided it was important that the board should have some autonomy in the running of their affairs. Naturally for pay and salaries there are national guidelines laid down. We have the Gleeson report and other such reports which deal specifically with the payment of people in the higher Civil Service and other areas. So there are guidelines laid down.
I am not suggesting that anybody should have a complete and total disregard for the national norms or disregard Government guidelines in this area. I would hate to feel that the Government were going to set guidelines. It would be beyond normal procedure and would go beyond the normal acceptable trade union and other negotiation union procedures set down for a body such as Teagasc. We are setting up a new body and we hope that the Minister will not keep his hand on them to make sure they do not get off the ground, which is quite likely if we are to have such restraint on it.
Mr. Kirk: The controls envisaged are quite standard. We had recent legislation to establish FÁS. It is really a contunuation of the type of arrangements that exist in those circumstances. While it is not directly in the public service, we are really talking about the whole area of the public service. It would be quite unthinkable and contrary to the Government's overall approach at this time to have any arrangement other than what is being provided for in the legislation as such. To even contemplate accepting the amendment would create all kinds of difficulties for this Government and for future Governments in this area.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
 Question proposed: “That section 8 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Connor: We find this section very restrictive in relation to the recruitment and staffing powers of Teagasc or a Teagasc subsidary. Like Senator Ferris, we think it would be helpful if all references to subsidiaries in subsections 2 (a), 2 (b) and (3) were deleted, and all these mentions of “with the consent of the Minister for Finance”, which we find in subsections (1), (2) (a), 2 (b) and (3).
With these shackles placed upon the board of Teagasc, the ever-present often dead hand of the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance, especially in relation to policies nowadays regarding recruitment in the public service and other ancillary activities, we feel there would be great difficulty for the new body in establishing joint ventures, for instance, in our soil testing services. They would have difficulty in setting up tax efficient vehicles whereby venture capital could be attracted. They would have difficulty in availing of certain EC or IDA funds, open only to private companies through forming a limited company with an industrial partner. They would have great difficulty in optimally privatising market-ready research and that has been much discussed here already today. Finally, we feel it would stand in the way of creating a genuine business environment. It is important that we get a business environment into this new body within which sales and technical staff could be reasonably well motivated.
Mr. Kirk: The provisions for the joint venture which Senator Connor has mentioned have already been provided for and I do not think there is any great difficulty in that area. It may well be an area that will expand in the future and the legislation as presently provided is quite adequate in that area.
Question put and agreed to.
 Section 9 agreed to.
An Leas-Cathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are related and amendments Nos. 22 and 23 are consequential.
Professor Murphy: I move amendment No. 20:
In page 12, to delete line 17.
Far from playing games, as the Minister earlier suggested we were doing on this Bill, I certainly would not be here unless I was serious about what I wanted to say. Indeed, I have no intention of playing games with section 10 and this amendment, which is down in the name of Senator Brendan Ryan. Any special pleading for members of staff of Teagasc to be Members of Seanad Éireann is not sustainable unless we apply it right across the board to a whole complex of State and semi-State bodies. I cannot see Senator Brendan Ryan's attempt at distinction between Dáil and Seanad in this regard. In theory I am in favour of having the expertise of researchers in the area of An Teagasc available if they want to submit themselves to the usual electoral test in what in theory is supposed to be a vocational chamber. I do not think that one can make a case in favour of this Bill rather than a whole host of others. I have no particular brief to carry for section 10 or any of the amendments Nos. 20 to 23.
Mr. Kirk: We are talking here about fairly standard and accepted legislation. The basic thinking behind it is to avoid any conflict of interests. I am sure others would argue that it would preclude the allegation of double jobbing being levelled against the individual who might aspire to that particular position.
Professor Murphy: The Minister and I are not really arguing about this. I believe there certainly are plenty conflicts of interests in this State at all kinds of levels, certainly in this House, between people who have not disclosed their interests  about the private particular as against the public good. The Minister and I are not in conflict about this. All I am saying is this. In my time in Seanad Éireann, from 1977 onwards, there have been occasions on which I have argued against the proposition that being a Member of Seanad Éireann is, ipso facto, a disqualification against serving on various commissions under the aegis of the State and vice versa. To that extent I share the principle of Senator Brendan Ryan's amendments, but I simply say to the Minister that I do not think there is any case in particular to be made for saying staff or members of An Teagasc should be exempt from the general perceived view that membership of the Oireachtas and membership and staff employment in these bodies are incompatible. In my view that does not arise.
Since I have been described here today as a proxy of Senator Brendan Ryan, I want to reject that totally. I am nobody's proxy. The views I expressed earlier today I represent quite independently and, apart from Senator Ryan's name on these amendments, I represent the graduates and my constituents, who have quite a legitimate and valid interest in this Bill. I do not have either to apologise for or reject the amendments which stand in somebody else's name.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: There is nothing unusual about a Member moving amendments in a colleague's name.
Professor Murphy: Nevertheless, in the interest of avoiding electoral confusion and, short of growing a beard and wearing glasses, what else can I do to distinguish myself from Senator Brendan Ryan?
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Chair is not very well versed in the internal politics of University Members.
Professor Murphy: I hope the Minister takes the point.
Mr. Ferris: I have no problem with the Senator's response to the amendments  which have been put down by another person so long as the anomaly which was in past legislation, which the previous Government started to change and which, thankfully, the parliamentary draftsman has eventually come to grips with, is removed. It was an anomaly that somebody who was nominated to contest an election, even against his will or without his knowledge, could have been excluded or lost his position on a board. The fact that the Taoiseach would nominate somebody to be a Member of the House is not nomination as understood when we were debating similar sections in other legislation.
I agree that there would be a conflict of interest, but being a member of the Oireachtas and being nominated to contest an election are different matters. It is only on election to this House or by nomination to be a Member of this House that the question of a dual role or a conflict of interest arises. I agree with Senator Murphy and the way he has explained his position in case he might be misrepresented as representing the views of Senator Ryan on this section. The Minister does not even have to reply if that suits the Chair.
Mr. Kirk: We are really maintaining the standard that has applied in other legislation. For instance, in the last legislation for ACOT, the 1977 Act and, of course, in the more recent one, when FÁS was established, this provision was built into it. We would have an anomalous situation if there were to be anything different in this proposal.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 21 to 23, inclusive, not moved.
Section 10 agreed to.
Amendment No. 24 not moved.
Question proposed: “That section 11 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Connor: We had an amendment down, amendment No. 24, which we cannot move now because of our references to ACOT. We were hoping that the Minister might have accepted our amendment and that we might now be talking about a new body called ACOTT.
Section 11 deals with the financing of Teagasc. This is one of the core issues of this Bill — the financing and, more importantly, the future financing after consultation. Last October an arbitrary decision was taken to cut the joint budgets of ACOT and AFT from £38 million to £20 million. Since then we have had nothing in either body but a mixture of mayhem and disarray. All of this was caused by this very highhanded and, we would submit, very stupid decision which was taken completely without reference to anyone in either body. There was a further diktat from the Minister at the time that 1,000 of the 2,200 staff jointly in ACOT and AFT would have to go. The announcement at that time made no reference to voluntary redundancy or redeployment under the terms of the National Understanding.
It was issued with a degree of threat to the staff of both bodies that they should get out. This threat took no account of the fact that both organisations, on average, had trimmed their expenditure by 25 per cent since 1980, while the Minister's own Department in Agriculture House have enjoyed — I made this point in my Second Stage speech — an increase in real or absolute terms of 6 per cent in the amount of money it cost the taxpayer since 1980.
The Minister admitted in the Dáil that the £20 million provided for it will be inadequate this year since only about 400 of the staff of the combined bodies have opted for leaving and many of the people who have opted to leave were the most industrious and talented and the most necessary people in both bodies. The Minister may deny that but my sources in both bodies confirm to me that that is the case.
It is generally agreed that at least £30 million or £32 million would have to be found to fund the research and advice  services in 1988. It is a matter of principle for us that the figure for funding this year must be the bottom line for financing to build on for future years. We want no more arbitrary diktats. The decisions must be taken after consultations and this also holds relevance for possible increases in charges to farmers for ACOT services.
We have the rather sad situation at present that the ACOT advisers in the field, literally have to be collectors of revenue for the Department because they have a set figure which they must collect in order for these areas to remain viable. This has meant that very often now the service is only being given not to farmers who most need the advice but to those who can afford to pay for it.
The Minister may dictate, without any consultation with the governing body or the body set up under the director of ACOT or with the director of Teagasc, that there should be a major increase in the charge to farmers for the provision of advice or making known to them new findings in research. That is a fundamental question of principle as far as we are concerned.
The Bill should be amended — we will come back to this again on Report Stage — to ensure that the interest of the people to whom the service is delivered is protected and above all that adequate funding will be provided for this body. If it is not to be provided, then its establishment will be totally meaningless. What we are talking about is double-edged in the sense that we want to ensure that adequate finance is provided from the Central Exchequer to keep this body up and running, to be relevant to the people that it has to be relevant to and, indeed, to the national economy, but also that its funding will not be found to a greater and greater degree out of the pockets of farmers who cannot afford it.
Mr. Ferris: As a result of this section my colleagues in the other House called a division on the Bill in total on the basis that they felt that this new board could not be properly financed with the budget struck this year in anticipation of the  formation of the new board of Teagasc. I wanted to adopt a more constructive role in that I felt the need for this merger was there, I also have extreme concern, like Senator Connor, about the lack of funding this year.
We have listened to representations from staff in both bodies and we are aware of the actual economics of how these fundings were broken down. For ACOT the State input was about £10.5 million; the local authorities put in £3.9 million; the EC funding was £2.8 million; charging for services realised £1.5 million and there was another miscellaneous accounting of about £2 million, bringing the total ACOT budget to about £20.7 million. The AFT budget was £9.5 million.
We considered, in consultation with the staff, that an extra £2 million would be required to have this board properly financed to carry out the work that we and the Government recognise needs to be done. That kind of budgeting of £30 million or £32 million, which was a minimum one, and which already had imposed on us some statutory cuts in the previous year, was not met by the Government. All we have at the moment is a kind of promise from the Minister of State's colleague, the other Minister of State and, indeed the Minister, that sufficient funding would be made available in future.
The lack of that additional funding at the moment will ensure that the scientific base of the industry as we know it will be undermined, that we will reduce the number of farmers without the advisory service; there are about 25,000 farmers, largely commercial farmers, who can afford to pay for the service but are not the category of farmers at whom this Bill should be aimed. It will mean that the staff and resources that are required to carry out development work will be smaller and some of the schemes will not be capable of operation.
We expect that this smaller funding will diminish the contribution that agriculture can make to the national programme for recovery which has been mentioned by  the Minister and which we feel is a necessary part of any development programme for this country. The Estimates for this year have been accepted by the other House, so let us pin the responsibility where it should be pinned. I feel the other House did not allow sufficient funding for this area.
We are looking now for a commitment from the Minister that there will be a real budget for this new body next year. If not, we predict that it will be a failure. The Minister can call it whatever name he likes, appoint whatever director he likes and give him whatever remuneration he likes, but he will be unable to carry out the task that the State will charge him with unless proper funding is available. Unless we ensure that that funding is available more staff will be lost. They will see no future in the service unless we ensure that there are sufficient funds available to them to carry out the work.
Those are the reservations I have and I have expressed them on various other sections. I have tried to do something for people who will be unable to pay the charges that, of necessity will be made by the new board for services rendered. I have no objection to the concept of commercially based farmers paying for a service but I have concern for family farmers who need advice, service and research and who will be unable to pay for this and who will be saddled with an imposition by a board that will have financial constrictions on it. I hope that under this section we can have the assurance that the Chair was unable to allow the Minister to give me under another section.
Mr. Kirk: In reply to Senators Connor and Ferris, the financial provision is really quite a separate matter from the Bill. It is something that has to be considered within the context of the Department of Agriculture and Food Estimate. We have all learned the lesson of reality. These matters cannot be considered in splendid isolation from the economic reality of the day. I am sure any Government would like to have double or treble the resources available in specific areas, such as  research and development, but it is simply not possible to divorce decision making with regard to financial provisions from the sort of resources that are available in the context of the overall economy.
Senator Connor made the point that the amount of money available this year for research and advice was in the region of £20 million. The figure is £23 million. Senator Ferris spoke about the division we had on this section in the other House. The division was on section 6 on fixing charges and was not on the question of the financial provision by the Government.
This amendment is unnecessary as there is ample scope in section 13, when Teagasc are submitting their proposed activities and estimates for the year, to put forward their views and requests at that time. I am sure they will be adequately considered when they are submitted for adjudication. I am sure the requirements of the new body will be adequately taken into account when the size of the grant given is being determined.
Mr. Ferris: This section deals with funding. We are looking for an assurance that the funding would be more liberal than it is this year. If it is similar to this year the Minister can forget it.
Mr. Kirk: I am simply not in a position to give that sort of commitment here tonight. It is a matter for the Government at the time of the Estimates.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 12 agreed to.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 are related and may be discussed together.
Amendment No. 25 not moved.
Mr. Ferris: I move amendment No. 26:
In page 13, subsection (3), line 35, after “Finance.” to insert “Such approval, including any amendments to the proposed activities and/or estimates shall be received by Teagasc before the end of the financial year to which it relates.”.
In our opinion this is adding in a technical way to the section as it stands to ensure that there is proper accounting.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: We are discussing amendment No 26 in the name of Senator Ferris. We will also discuss amendment No. 27. Would Senator Ferris like to make a comment on amendment No. 27 as we are discussing them together.
Mr. Ferris: They are both self-explanatory. The first amendment is to insert subsection (3) and the second amendment is to insert subsection (4). We are now removing from the Minister or from the board of Teagasc this right to give approval but we are trying to legislate for the eventuality that may arise.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. J. Walsh): It can be reasonably expected in practice that approval for the annual programme will be forthcoming before the end of the year preceding the year to which it relates. Amendments to the programme, where necessary, can be expected to be approved as they arise. It is in the interest of both the new authority and the Minister that this should be so. Therefore it is not necessary to have these amendments. The Bill as it stands is adequate and in the interest of Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture and Food.
Mr. Ferris: The Minister is expecting that this situation will not arise, that if the normal procedures are followed this will be unnecessary. Can I have an assurance that if it arises we will have some procedure available to us to overcome this? I will be dealing later with another  amendment about local advisory committees which would ensure that there would be a programme set up and carried out. I want the Minister to deal with it in this section. I accept his assurance that this procedure will be followed and I take it that the House or the Minister will ensure that it is followed in everybody's interest.
Mr. J. Walsh: I have no difficulty in giving the Senator an assurance on that.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 27 not moved.
Section 13 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 14 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Ferris: Senator Murphy was worried about the disclosure of information. Perhaps the Minister might reassure us about the wording of the section so that we will have it on the record for Senator Murphy's perusal and, hopefully, for his approval.
Mr. Hussey: Is the Senator acting as proxy for Senator Murphy?
Mr. Ferris: No.
Mr. J. Walsh: I do not know how Senator Murphy comes into this because the opposition to this section is by Senator Brendan Ryan. At any rate I am glad to be able to assure Senator Murphy, since he is a former tutor of mine, that there is no difficulty in relation to this matter. Section 14 provides that members of the board and the staff of Teagasc or a subsidiary shall not disclose any information obtained by them in the performance of their duties without the consent of Teagasc. This is a reasonable requirement and an essential one in many ways because a lot of the research and development work that is being done by Teagasc will be by way of commercial  involvement and support. Commercial firms want to have their R and D work carried out in a confidential way.
It is in the best interests of the employees of Teagasc that no information should be disclosed without the prior consent of Teagasc. I have no difficulty in giving an assurance that this confidentiality aspect will not inhibit in any way research publications or research findings. That will continue as usual in the various publications which will come out from time to time from the new body. In the interests of the employees, the clients and in the interest of the future of Teagasc and their performance this section is essential.
Mr. Ferris: In responding positively I hope Senator Murphy's who expressed an interest in this will accept the Minister's assurance. In addition to the areas of research, development and information which might have been achieved through that process, there is other private information which an employee of Teagasc might have available to him in dealing with clients. When dealing with a client's farming accounts his financial situation was available and an assurance of confidentiality was given by the previous advisers in ACOT.
Farmers will now need to be reassured again that any information available to advisers in their capacity as employees of Teagasc will not be available to the Revenue Commissioners or any other agency. I hope that the board of Teagasc who will have this information will treat it with confidentiality to which it is entitled particularly if it should be made available in the course of advice that is necessary to get somebody out of financial difficulty or to put him into another area of farming which is more beneficial financially. I want to reassure people that that confidentiality will remain as this section indicates. It gives Teagasc as a board some discretion in disclosing information.
Mr. J. Walsh: I said that it was in the interests of the employees and the clients. The clients would, in general, be the  farmers or the farming community through their co-ops and organisations. I can give an absolute assurance that there will be no question of disclosing any confidential information, including accounts of clients. The Revenue Commissioners have a comprehensive system of acquiring information in relation to citizens. One of the systems will not be by way of Teagasc or its staff through any confidential information they may have in relation to clients.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 15 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Connor: Subsection (1) states:
Teagasc or a subsidiary may, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance, invest funds of Teagasc or the subsidiary, as the case may be, in such a manner as it thinks fit.
We would like it to be a little more positive and we would be looking for a change in the wording. We feel that any funds generated by Teagasc or any of its subsidiaries that the Government would see fit to dispose of should not go directly back into the Exchequer. Why should they not go back into Teagasc itself for the development of further research programmes or into the agricultural industry generally?
Mr. Ferris: Subsection (2) states:
The proceeds of the disposal of land or an interest in land by Teagasc or a subsidiary shall be disposed of in such manner as the Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, direct.
I am concerned about the acquisition of some of the assets of county committees of agriculture and ACOT which were partly financed by local authorities and partly by the Department. If they are  being offered for sale, account should be taken in the dispersal of funds which will become available of the input from the ratepayers of local authorities in funding the original acquisition of some of these properties and lands.
Mr. J. Walsh: This section deals with proceeds which accrue to Teagasc and which have to date accrued to An Foras Talúntais. In practice, those moneys or finances generated by contract research go back into the research programme. The same principle will apply under Teagasc itself. This section is to ensure that there is accountability since the assets are State assets, the assets of the Irish people. There is accountability to a Minister in Government for the disposal of any assets or the expenditure of any moneys which accrue from contract research.
Mr. Connor: I welcome the Minister's remarks. It is a pity that he would not follow up his remarks with an actual change in the wording of this section. He accepts my point and assures us that moneys generated from contracts in the research sector will go back into development of further research or provide the wherewithal for wider research. Why not state that formally in the Bill? He could still include in it “under the direction of the Minister for Finance”. We are worried about the clear inference here that the Minister for Finance can take that money and put it where he will.
Mr. J. Walsh: There is an overly-suspicious attitude towards sections of this Bill. There is no difficulty about this. What has been happening in practice for several decades in an Foras Talúntais is going to happen in Teagasc. If we had a specific provision in the Bill it would load it in the other direction. I want to give an assurance that any moneys accruing to Teagasc from research or commercial support for this programme will be utilised by Teagasc to further its research and development programme. This section is included specifically to ensure that there is accountability and that State assets will  be put to the use for which they are provided and to no other use.
Mr. Ferris: I have no problem with the section, but I am anxious about people who funded some of this property under other legislation and were promised specifically in the legislation that they would be compensated for it on the acquisition by ACOT. This Bill gives the Minister and this new board the power to take all the property and land from county committees and from ACOT which they may have in their possession. I am concerned that some of this was funded by local authorities. If such is the case and the money is proven to be still legitimately due to local authorities, the Minister should refund it to the ratepayers of the counties, who included county council cottiers with an acre of land.
Mr. J. Walsh: Any property of public bodies is a public or State asset and there is a procedure for resolving changes that occur in this case. It is not a matter specifically for this Bill, which is about the establishment of Teagasc. The disposal of assets or the transfer of assets from one State agency to another is a matter for further legislation, but it is not germane to this Bill and certainly does not arise under section 15.
Mr. Ferris: The Minister said on Second Stage that this Bill provides him with the legislative power to acquire the assets of ACOT and county committees. The Bill does give that power. In my Second Stage speech I said I hoped that in the acquisition of these properties account would be taken of those who helped to fund them. On this section, where one is talking about the Minister's accountability and the board's accountability to the Minister, I am putting in the claim for the local authorities, who were the main funders of this. The Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, said in his Second Stage speech that it gave him the power to acquire properties.
Mr. J. Walsh: That question is addressed under section 22 of this Bill dealing  with the transfer of assets and liabilities of county committees of agriculture. We will go into this matter in depth later on.
Mr. Ferris: I am premature, but right.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 16 agreed to.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30 are related and may be discussed together.
Mr. Ferris: I move amendment No. 28:
In page 14, subsection (1), line 23, to delete “may” and substitute “shall”.
This is to enable us by legislation to ensure that the new board shall establish committees. The Bill abolishes county committees of agriculture which were set up under the ACOT Bill. The reason given is that they were abolished automatically because ACOT was abolished. As they were associated with ACOT as statutory bodies they automatically fell or were abolished by the abolition of ACOT. In the setting up of this new board the Minister tried to meet some of the demands made on him, particularly by members of his own party who made a major contribution over a period of some 35 to 40 years to the county committees of agriculture. Fianna Fáil councillors and nominees of councillors elected by the people serving on county councils became responsible to farmers by serving on the county committees.
They, in turn, were served at national level by the General Council of Agricultural Committees, another statutory body, which has not been mentioned at all in this legislation. It is a shame, considering the service the general council has given to the agricultural industry, to the Minister and to ACOT. They were never given due recognition by anybody for what they were doing. Other non-statutory farming organisations were  always pandered to and brought in on deputations and had extensive media coverage. County committees and the general council who played a major role often worked quietly behind the scenes and tried to bring the message to the Minister and to his officials.
Here is a way to redress that by ensuring that Teagasc have a statutory obligation to establish a committee at county level to advise them. I am including local authority members who have expertise in this area, farming organisations, such as Muintir na Tíre, ICMSA, IFA, ICA, Macra na Feirme and all other bodies who have in the past nominated people to serve on county committees. Here is the wealth of talent which was freely available on a voluntary basis through county committees. They gave a magnificent service and all the Minister could say in his opening speech was that they used up all the money allocated on travelling expenses. I consider that one of the greatest insults that any Minister could have given to long-serving members of county committees of agriculture. I would be reneging on my commitment to those committees and my membership of them over a period of years since 1967, if I did not mention how disgusted I was with the Minister's reference to these committees. The allocations were miserly, to say the least, but members overlooked this and travelled throughout the country at their own expense in the best interests of agriculture, acting in an advisory capacity. It is not unreasonable to make sure that this incoming body has a statutory obligation to continue this type of county-based advice service.
If the Minister accepts this amendment every Fianna Fáil council in the country who have an interest in agriculture will be delighted. They have been making representations through county councils, through the General Council of County Councils, through the General Council of Committees of Agriculture. They have been at one in demanding that there should be county committee structures set up under this new board. This amendment, which I am quite serious about,  directs the new board to establish them. I see no reason why they should not have them. The Minister has put in a section that would allow them the flexibility of having them, but I want to make it certain. They will be unable to perform their role or function adequately unless they have these committees. That is why I want to strengthen the legislation by replacing the word “may” by “shall”.
Mr. Connor: My colleagues and I have put forward a more broadly worded amendment to this section which states:
In page 14, subsection (1), line 24, after “functions” to insert “and shall establish, in each county, at least one local advisory forum which shall be a committee within the terms of this section”.
We believe there is a need for an input into policy making and into the direction of this new body from members of the farming and rural organisations, organised throughout the various counties. We also believe in the value and wisdom of the contributions of locally elected members of county councils. For the past ten years the county committees of agriculture, acting as advisory bodies to ACOT, have been constituted of members of the IFA, Macra na Feirme, the ICMSA, the ICA and other rural bodies within each county. There is a wealth of wisdom among those people and they have contributed a wealth of very good ideas. The “rubbishing” of the role of county committees took place not because of the foibles of some members of these committees — and we agree there were foibles — but because of the often arrogant disregard of their views by the Department of Agriculture and by the board of ACOT. Not everybody is free from sin in this area. Many of their proposals were well thought out. They were very well informed, yet they were disregarded. They often became the butt of a joke.
It was gratuitously insulting of the Minister to state in his Second Stage speech that they spent all of their money on travelling expenses. No other funding  was provided for them. The only funding was subsistence and travelling expenses for these people to go voluntarily to these meetings. I notice a lot of smiles here and I hope they are not smiles of derision. It was very small and very poor reward for these people for the time they lost and the services they gave. They brought forward far more relevant ideas than ever emanated from Agriculture House. These are the people who lived on the ground and had their feet on the ground. The decision-makers in the headquarters of ACOT, and maybe in AFT, are less guilty of criticism than the people in Agriculture House. The ideas and proposals of the county committees were far more germane and to the problems of Irish agriculture than the ideas of many of the people with very big salaries within Agriculture House.
We are proposing very positively that the concept of county advisory committees be maintained. Something should be written into the new law which will ensure that the good ideas and proposals brought forward by these committees will find a way into the general body of agricultural policy. It is of no use to create a body like the previous one who came forward with good ideas, who played out their role very well, yet had no imput into policy. That is the very antithesis of democracy. That is all about decentralising decision-making. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, his Department, people in ACOT, in AFT or in the new body, Teagasc, do not have the monopoly of wisdom in determining the whole corpus policy for agriculture. There are many good ideas out there. Let us tap into those good ideas and listen to reasonable and good proposals.
We are proposing that the Minister should accept our amendment. Many people in local authorities and in his own Department would be delighted. Senator Hussey quoted the wording of the proposal which he championed at Galway County Council. Every congratulation to Senator Hussey and I sincerely hope that he will stand on his feet tonight and say again what he said in Galway and impress  upon the Minister the need to retain these advisory committees.
Mr. Hussey: It is obvious from the wording of section 17 (1) that, whether or not the amendments proposed are accepted, there will be committees to assist and advise in relation to the functions of Teagasc. It does not specify whether these will be county or regional committees, but I hope they will be county committees. It is very important that there should be county committees established to advise on the running of this board.
I served on a county committee for many years and I always found that the people on those committees were very dedicated to their job. All of them had a direct interest in agriculture. Their recommendaitons and advice were always listened to and acted on by the CAO and by the Department of Agriculture and later by ACOT. It would be a pity to lose that kind of contact with the local scene because the one criticism we hear of boards set up in recent times is that they have become too big, too unwieldy and too far removed from the local scene. The establishment of a local committee would eliminate that problem because it would give a local input to the board of Teagasc and would tap that advice and help available locally. I hope the Minister will listen to the case made tonight and that we will see established in every county after this Bill is put into operation committees that will help and advise on the day-to-day running of Teagasc.
Mr. Bradford: I am glad to support this amendment, but at the same time I am sad that we have come to the section where the dissolution of committees has to be spoken about. It is appropriate that the Minister for Food is to respond to the debate because, as an excellent member of the present county committee of agriculture in Cork and a most able former chairman of that body, he is very much aware of the work done by that committee down through the years and by  similar committees throughout the country. Many of his colleagues must be regretting the fact that the end appears nigh for the committees of agriculture. I am sure his heart must be with us, though he may have to speak in a different vein when he comes to respond.
When I spoke of the dissolution of the committees of agriculture last week I mentioned that I saw it as the thin edge of the wedge as regards the removal of power from local authority members. This removal may start with the scrapping of the committee of agriculture but I think it will filter down to the abandonment of many other local committees. One wonders what this will mean in ten years' time for the future of local authorities and their membership.
Surely we would have to agree that local people can solve local problems best, whether it be in the field of agriculture, if you excuse the pun, or industry or any other aspect of Irish economic life. The work done by the members of the county committees of agriculture down through the years resulted in dramatic improvements in agriculture output. Undoubtedly, over the past five or six years they had only a very limited role. That, however, is very understandable because they had very little option in regard to the spending of their meagre funds. Points have been made about the money spent on travelling expenses etc., but we have to take note of the fact that funding was so limited that once the travel expenses were taken out there was very little left over. That certainly should not bear in any way on the members of the committees of agriculture but instead should reflect poorly on those who provided them over the past number of years under different Governments with very insufficient amounts of funds. I am glad that the Bill——
An Cathaoirleach: Is the Senator making a Second Stage speech?
Mr. Bradford: No.
Mr. Connor: Second Stage speeches  were generally restricted at Second Stage so I think you could exercise leniency.
An Cathaoirleach: We are dealing with amendment No. 28.
Mr. Bradford: Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your assistance regarding the interruptions by Senator Connor. At least the Government are indicating that they wish that some recognition be given to local interests. We have to seek an absolute guarantee that a local committee will be set up in each county to take note of the problems they see and deal with them in the fashion they have been used to. Under the Bill the Minister may or may not set up the committees. That is not good enough. We are most insistent that committees shall be set up.
I believe the county structure is still the ideal one for a sub-committee. The different problems can be best dealt with at county rather than regional level. I would agree with all that Senator Hussey said and his comments are indicative of the views of all local authority members throughout the country. These are the people who know the problems best and are most concerned with what they see as the disappearance of a forum that proved most effective for the farming community and agriculture in general.
I again appeal to the Minister to take serious cognisance of our amendment. It is not good enough to be half-hearted about setting up sub-committees under Teagasc. We will have to get a full commitment that they will be set up in each county. That structure has worked well down through the years and if it is allowed to function again with proper funding it will help in the continued expansion of agriculture throughout the country.
Mr. Hogan: County committees of agriculture discharged their statutory function extremely well, particularly up to 1979. The enactment of legislation at that time transferred many of the responsibilities of county committees to  ACOT. That was brought about by the enactment of the legislation by the Minister of the day, Jim Gibbons. It was probably brought about as well by the disdain and dislike by Department officials for county committees of agriculture. I often wonder about the reason. Perhaps it was the duplication of many of the resolutions and many of the matters that had been dealt with in each county that arrived on the desks of officials in the Department who disliked the duplication of effort and opinion in relation to each county. Perhaps that was the reason. It is essential to maintain a local input into the development of agricultural policy to ensure that there is a direct link between the Department of Agriculture and Food and the farmer on the ground, as it were. I can give one example——
An Cathaoirleach: I hate to interrupt my colleagues but could we stick to the wording of the amendment point by point? I do not want to lose control of this.
Mr. Hogan: I am sticking to the point. A county forum is needed and I am giving the background reasons for it. The Minister understands, as Senator Bradford quite rightly said, being himself a member of a county committee. He appreciates that a county forum is essential as put forward by Senators Connor, Bradford and Hogan in amendment No. 29, which we are discussing in conjunction with amendment No. 28. For example, the county committees of agriculture made a considerable impact in the dissemination of information, and in communicating between the farmer and the Department during the fodder crisis caused by the bad weather in 1985 and 1986. Programmes of activity were drawn up at county level to deal with the very difficult situation at that time when the writing off of most of the fodder farmers needed for the winter months was on the cards. The scheme to be implemented by the Department in the form of subsidised meal costs from Europe was fine tuned by the input of local people, by the ACOT staff and by the representatives  of local democracy and the farming organisations through that county forum. That is an example of how considerable constructive work was done.
It is unfortunate that we are discussing section 17 here tonight. It is the wilful destruction or, as we would call it in rural Ireland, the “scarification” of one of the last bastions of local democracy. I regret that it is a deliberate attempt by the Government to stifle any local input into agricultural policy. They are backed up in that role by the fact that the Minister has failed to see the considerable influence which local democracy — county councillors, farming organisations and rural organisations — can have on agricultural policy. The action will be regretted. People will make more representations to the Oireachtas rather than less. We will need more ombudsmen and ombudspeople throughout the country rather than less as a result of the dissolution of county committees of agriculture and the communication process on the ground. That is why the amendment is so important. It is important that the Minister should have a positive reaction to my contribution by saying: “The Minister or the board of Teagasc shall, on a county basis, set up a county committee advisory structure which will supplant and replace what he is trying to dissolve under the present Bill”.
Various speakers referred to the contribution and dedication of local people who were represented on these committees over the years. It is not as a nostalgic plea that people are defending county committees of agriculture. Senators are not standing up and talking about the retention of local democracy from the view point of local elections. It would be unwise for the Minister or his Department to form this opinion from this debate. We are very conscious of the role of local democracy in the formulation and implementation of agricultural policy through a county forum like the county committees of agriculture. The Minister, who has been a member of a county committee of agriculture, and the General Council of County Committees  of Agriculture knows the valuable contribution people who have long been associated with that work can make including, if I might mention one name. Michael Hassett, who was the secretary for many years. Those dedicated people feel very strongly about the need to maintain that link between the Department and the farmer.
If the Minister fails to accept an amendment of a positive nature I regret to say that it will be a classic example of the Minister for Agriculture and Food losing influence over the direction of his Department by bending to the disdain and dislike of bureaucracy for county committees of agriculture which have built up over a number of years. I suggest that any arm of the state stretching beyond the Pale at present is either amputated by legislation or suffocated by lack of finance. That is a direction in local democracy that I do not want to see continue. That is why I want the Minister to put positive wording into this Bill to ensure that local democracy will continue to thrive in rural Ireland if not within the Pale.
An Cathaoirleach: Before I call on the Leas-Chathaoirleach to speak and in order that we will not have repetition, most of the speeches — and I use the word “speeches”— could have come up on section 20. I am asking for co-operation now so that we will not have repetition at a later stage.
Mr. McDonald: I rise to support very strongly amendments Nos. 28 and 29 in the names of Senators Ferris, Connor, Hogan and Bradford. I quite agree that the case we are making on section 17 with these very important amendments also has a very direct bearing on section 20. Over the past couple of years the Government of the day, the Department of Finance, or whoever, have actually castrated the work of the agriculture committees by removing from them whatever finance or whatever autonomy they had. From speaking to colleagues serving on the committee I know it was just a nuisance.  Since regionalisation a few years ago there has been no input from local county committees into the policy and the work of the ACOT committees. I can honestly say that I do not regret the passing of the ACOT county committees or the successors to the county committees of agriculture we have known for the past few years, because they had absolutely no function. I was elected to a regional committee for some part of the Leinster region. I attended one meeting in the Lyons estate and that was the end of that branch of the association.
If we take as a case in point the county of Offaly which has one-third of its land mass comprising peat soils, can the Minister seriously stand up with a straight face and say that a new central organisation, Teagasc, or whatever, with responsibility for both research and the advisory services, will give a specialist service to a county that has a third of its land mass completely covered with peat soils and most of it with cut-over bogs. At present there is a complete winding down of the Bord na Móna enterprises. The board of the ESB have decided to take out of production five peat-fired generating stations. The two greatest industrial employers responsible for over 5,000 jobs are being withdrawn in a county where we have the lowest density of population in the entire Republic, taking Leitrim, Mayo or any other county into consideration. Does anyone think any national body will give specialist attention to that when we read in the newspapers just a few months ago that the cutbacks would mean the discontinuation of the An Foras Talúntais research station in Lullymore in county Kildare, which specialises completely in the cultivation of peat soils, whether for afforestation, vegetables or the production of beef?
I submit that it is imperative that the Minister should give in this Bill a guarantee to the Oireachtas that local committees will be set up so that farmers who will be forced to compete with the best in Europe over the next ten or 20 years will have an opportunity to influence a service they must depend on for their  very economic survival. I do not think the contributions of Members on this Bill are receiving serious attention or consideration from the Government. I regret to say that. Looking at the reception this important Bill is getting in this House as against, for instance, the Companies (No. 2) Bill — there is no rush with it; the Minister is receptive and he appears to appreciate points that are raised — there is absolutely no comparison in the way these two pieces of legislation going through this House simultaneously are being treated and dealt with.
I strongly support Senator Ferris' amendment. It should be written into section 17 that Teagasc shall establish committees. Unless we have committees with a local input, there are areas in this country which will have absolutely no service. Unless pressure is kept on the Government from the grassroots, there will be no response from central Government, especially when the Department of Finance will be drawing the pen, line by line, through what they want or do not want provided. Therefore, small specialist areas, small deprived areas needing special attention, which do not come under a grandiose plan for the whole country will fall a cropper. Therefore, I appeal that amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30 should be taken together so that section 17 (1) will read:
Teagasc shall establish committees to assist and advise it in relation to the performance of its functions and shall establish in each county at least one local advisory forum which shall be a committee within the terms of this section.
With that kind of assurance written into the Bill those of us whose livelihoods and whose families depend to a great extent on the ability of this new body to come up with the answers will be able to meet the oncoming competition. I do not have to remind the House that in 1992 not only will there be free movement of everything, according to the Single European Act, but there will be one hour access from the UK to central Europe. We are either going to be swamped, or we are  going to avail of the opportunities that present themselves.
Our farmers must have advice. We must have the research to produce new seeds or varieties. We must have the assistance of a top class research and advisory service. I am not convinced that, after the passing of this Bill, the Department of Agriculture and Food will have any say in the expertise they have. Are we going back to 12 years ago when we had the university farms were a republic or an empire on their own. Department of Agriculture farms were doing their own thing? The new Teagasc outfit will be at the mercy of the Department of Finance for finance for any of their research projects. The whole thing is too uncertain; the whole thing is too serious.
I very much regret that I will leave this debate in this Chamber with a diminished hope for the future — and for my future as a member of the farming community. Who can we turn to if we do not believe in the services established by the Oireachtas to provide for the agricultural industry — not just for farmers but the input services and the processing services which are becoming more and more important? The Minister of State with responsibility for Food must surely agree with that. We need hope and we need a clear definition of what we can expect from this section.
Mr. McMahon: I do not know how serious the Minister is when he says that Teagasc may establish committees to assist or advise them on the performance of their functions. The Minister has given no indication as to what committees that may be set up throughout the country. Everybody who has gone to the trouble of reading the legislation and taking note of the Bill before us is of the opinion that it will be the exception rather than the rule if we ever see a committee. It is generally accepted that a committee will be set up only to prove that the legislation is worth while. There is no obligation on Teagasc to set up any committee, anywhere. If the amendments are not accepted by the Minister, I will be  interested to hear his reply to the contributions.
During most of my time in public life I have served on the county committee of agriculture in County Dublin; many may think it is not the most important county committee. That committee, as did all the other county committees throughout the country, played a significant part in bringing the farmers of Ireland up to date and into the EC. I referred to that in my Second Stage speech last week. I do not want to remind the House of what happened after that, It is getting to a dangerous hour.
An Cathaoirleach: We have hours to go.
Mr. McMahon: We have. I am sure we will not go on as long as we did last week. I am very proud to have served on county committees and I am sure many other Members feel just as proud. They know the value of those county committees down the years. Indeed, I was one of those who put forward the idea that all aspects of agriculture and related operations in the county should be represented on county committees. We saw that happen in our time. We also saw their responsibilities and, as Senator McDonald outlined, their usefulness diminished in recent times. When that happened under ACOT many of those serving on county committees forecast that the day would come when they would not be in existence at all. I regret to say that we seem to be arriving at that day, but I would hope——
An Cathaoirleach: I hate to interrupt you again but I did give a little ground to the Leas-Chathaoirleach in his contribution. He was a little bit off the rails but he was allowed that. Could you get back to the amendments, please?
Mr. McMahon: In speaking on these two amendments, I would like to make a slight reference to the opinions of former Ministers for Agriculture. Indeed, Mr. Mark Clinton, who is now in Europe,  was anxious — and I served on a county committee with Mark Clinton before he was Minister — that all bodies who had an interest in agriculture should be represented on these county committees. As I have said, we saw that then, but I regret to say that the Minister in his introductory speech on Second Stage referred to the expenses of members of county committees of agriculture. He said that 70 per cent of the expenditure of county committees was on travelling expenses. That was a most unfortunate remark by the Minister because he gave the impression that county committees were doing nothing except using up finance.
The facts are that the finance was taken from them. The only thing that was not taken from them were their expenses for attending meetings. I regret that the Minister gave this impression to the country — to those who would not otherwise know — by referring to the figures for last year, but he did not refer to a figure of five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago when——
An Cathaoirleach: I wonder could we get back to amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30 to section 17?
Mr. McMahon: ——the expenditure on travelling expenses was roughly 5 per cent of the expenditure of the county committees. However, I am sure most people throughout the country have dealt with that since the Minister made that utterance.
This legislation is a slap in the face to county committees. I regret that the Minister has not seen fit to insert these amendments into the Bill. I am anxiously waiting to hear what he has to say tonight. I hope the Minister of State will readily accept these two amendments. There is absolutely no means by which we can measure the value of these county committees down the years. I think the Minister of State and, indeed, most if not all Senators and many others fully realise the value of those county committees. We are not only taking from agriculture the tremendous benefit the county committees have been to that industry but we  are denuding the country of democracy and that——
An Cathaoirleach: In fairness, I have allowed a lot of latitude. Perhaps the Minister would like to comment at this stage, but we must get back to amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30 and stop Second Stage speeches.
Mr. McMahon: I respect your views but I do not think my more recent remarks dealt with anything other than the amendments before us. If the Minister had given me a wink that he was likely to accept these amendments, I might have shut up ten minutes ago, but he has not given me the nod or the wink. Perhaps he is keeping it as a little surprise for us. I hope that, if he does not see his way to accepting these amendments in full, he will some time in the future set up committees on a county basis. I believe that the greatest harm being done is not only the loss to agriculture but the loss to democracy.
Mr. J. Walsh: I am satisfied and convinced that the concerns expressed by many Senators are adequately catered for in section 17 of the Bill. Section 17 states quite clearly that Teagasc may establish committees to assist and advise in relation to the performance of their functions. Under subsection (2):
A committee may include persons who are not members of Teagasc.
Subsection (2) states:
Teagasc may appoint a person to be chairman of a committee established under this section.
Subsection (4) states:
There may be paid out of the income of Teagasc to members of a committee established under this section such allowances for expenses incurred by them as Teagasc may, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance, determine.
It is written into this Bill that Teagasc may establish committees to assist them  in their work and I believe that is important. There is a change from the old committee system. I want to avail of this occasion to pay tribute to the work done by former committee members and there are a number of them here tonight and also a number of chairmen of committees.
The fact is that times and situations change and I do not believe that the county structure may be the most relevant today. For example, in County Cork — and Senator Bradford will be familiar with this — the council is divided into three areas and more recently the Irish farmers' organisation, the IFA, decided to divide the old rebel county into two counties and more recently, again, they divided it into three counties because, of course, the area which I represent is a severely handicapped area and we look for and get a lot of assistance by way of disadvantaged areas payments and so on. The mid-Cork area and the east-Cork area are totally different types of areas which have much more fertile land and so on. Senator Bradford will be aware of the situation in north-Cork and the particular attributes of that county.
There is provision in the Bill for the establishment of committees either at district, regional, or county level, if that is what is required by local people. In relation to the goodwill of ACOT or the Ministers involved in the establishment of committees, in my own area of special interest which is food, I have already, in anticipation of this legislation, got the National Food Centre, which is a part of An Foras Talúntais, to establish a specialist committee to advise and assist in the development and promotion of the food industry. That advisory committee is made up of representatives of various organisations with specialist knowledge in the food area.
I anticipate that in the area Senator McDonald talked about with great concern, the area in Offaly where one-third of it is made up of peat land and cutaway bog, an advisory committee representative of that type of interest will be established to assist Teagasc in the  preparation of their programme. Similarly, in the area of tillage, cereals or beef, there is no question but that committees will be established to assist and advise Teagasc in their work, but I am not convinced that the county committee system is the most appropriate. In fact, the Cashman Review Group who were established to examine this matter in depth were convinced that district or regional areas, rather than county units, would give the best value as advisory committees.
This is by far the most appropriate way to represent local interests, and not alone local interests but specialist areas of research and development. For that reason I do not propose to accede to the amendments suggested and I am of the view that section 17 should be retained in its present form.
Mr. Ferris: I am sorry that the Minister is adopting this attitude now because I think a reasonable case was made by everybody on this side of the House. I know the Minister has interpreted some of this as being repetitious. That comes from all the experience that all of us have had on county committees throughout the country. The Leader of the House said, when there was an argument last week, not to worry about the Second Stage because this really is a Committee Stage Bill and we would have every opportunity to discuss the various sections. This is a specific section to which we propose a specific set of amendments to strengthen it so as to ensure that there are and shall be local advisory committees to Teagasc. The fact is that the section, as worded by the parliamentary draftsman and as proposed by Minister and the Government, gives an option that there may not be. We are not satisfied on this side of the House that that is strong enough. That is why we are emphasising, for for all the reasons given by all the Members, repetitious and otherwise that the wealth of expertise at county level, which has been given voluntarily and expertly over the years, could now be written away by a stroke of a pen because  the parliamentary draftsman did not ensure that there would be committees. He left it optional. I am not satisfied that it should be optional: I am insisting that there should be such committes. My colleague, Senator O'Shea, will also defend this view. He also knows the structures that were there and how chairmen were appointed from the members, not dictated by a board in Dublin, which is what the Bill implies. This is not democracy; this is dictatorship. If you are going to have dictatorship from central authority down to grass roots you will get no cooperation down there if Dublin, by advertisements in the national media or otherwise, dictate how projects and programmes should be set aside. You must have consultation. You must have local democracy and you can only ensure that it happens by legislation.
Mr. Connor: I wish to agree with Senator Ferris, and to express disappointment with the attitude of the Minister. No good case has been made against these committees. The Minister acknowledges that they have made an input and he has been appreciative of that in his expressions. Could we make the point again that many good ideas emerged from these committees and lost their value because they went unheeded. I would have to say to the Minister that many good ideas proceed from the decision makers and the policy makers in his own Department but indeed very many stupid and very many insane ideas have emerged from within his own Department. We are now going to have decision making made totally and completely in Dublin. There will be no input from the countryside, from the people who represent the rural organisations, members of the IFA, members of the ICMSA, members of Macra na Feirme, the young farmers and the elected members of the local authorities, many of them farmers themselves with a wealth of agricultural-farming experience behind them.
I would appeal to the Minister to be more positive and accept our amendment. What is involved here is very small.  We would be willing to concede on the regional rather than on the county basis, but the principle of having local committees — and I mean meaningful local committees — should be upheld by having something in the Bill which would state specifically that what these bodies had to say or the advice that they had to give, as long as it was germane and relevant, would be heeded and would be taken into account in the formulation of agricultural policy.
Mr. McDonald: I must express dissatisfaction with the Minister's reply. If the Minister is convinced of what he said, why can he not accede to the small amendment proposed by Senator Ferris and establish committees?
I am not enamoured of regionalisation in this country in regard to health or anything else. It has not been a success. The end product, the services, are worse than we enjoyed before regionalisation was introduced. I think that every time McKinsey was invited here to do a report on the public service, we wound up being worse off. I know that if the Department of Agriculture, with their great mass of expertise and experience over a long number of years have it within themselves to improve the service if they were left alone. What frightens me is the slowness on the part of the Minister to come out and say: ‘Yes, the policy of the Government is that Teagasc shall set up local advisory committees to give the people who stand to benefit from the new service some input into the policy of the service.”
We had a long discussion on section 15 and the disposal of the property of the organisations about to be abolished or transferred into this new body, Teagasc. If that policy follows the recent pattern of the Department of Finance as expressed regarding the IDA properties, where the Industrial Development Authority was told to provide £5 million towards the Exchequer in the year, where does that leave the infrastructures already built up painstakingly over the last 20 to 25 years? Therefore, with the wording of section 17 as it stands, we are left with great  doubts whether there is a genuine intention that the policy of the new policy will be to invite local participants from across the country to have an input to advise on the kind of service they want. That is why I am dumbfounded because, taking this Bill, it is not one that I can get any hope from.
An Cathaoirleach: I realise how strong your feelings are on this, and indeed the feelings of all my colleagues, but we will have to desist from repetition and try to make a decision on the amendments.
Mr. McDonald: With respect, a Chathaoirligh, you will certainly have repetition until we get straight answers from the Minister. What is to stop the Minister coming forward and answering the questions that are put, not just by one speaker but by speaker after speaker? This is a deliberating forum and we are entitled to get some sort of a reassurance and answers. I do not accept that there is repetition. However, I bow to your ruling; there is no doubt about that. I believe that this Bill does not give us a straight-forward assurance or any indication of what the Government's policy is going to be.
Section 17 (1) says Teagasc “may”— but they may not. There is no guarantee that they will. The very latest example we had this year was where another semi-State organisation was told to sell off property to contribute some £5 million towards the Exchequer. What are we supposed to think? We have very valuable research farms right across the country, built up and acquired painstakingly over the last quarter of a century, each one strategically placed in order to afford the farming community an opportunity of seeing the research in progress, the research in action. I think that, with the change and amalgamation of these important infrastructures of the greatest importance to the agriculture community, there must be a local input, because a civil servant or a professional person on £25,000, £30,000 or more per year can have absolutely no understanding of the position of 35 per cent or  40 per cent of the farming population in receipt of less than the minimum provided by the dole. My source for that is the statistics that came out some months ago from the economic section of An Foras Talúntais.
Mr. McMahon: A Chathaoirligh, I am——
An Cathaoirleach: The Leas-Chathaoirleach has requested that the Minister be allowed in.
Mr. McMahon: All right.
An Cathaoirleach: I thought I was following the practice, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach does when he is in the Chair, of allowing two or three speakers to come in on Committee Stage and then call the Minister, but different ground rules seem to be made.
Mr. J. Walsh: Yes, Senator McDonald asked for straight answers. I have already said that I am satisfied that the existing provisions which I read out are adequate to meet the concern expressed by Senators — that Teagasc may establish committees to assist and advise them in relation to the performance of their functions. This is being done already and has been done in the instance which I gave.
In regard to the goodwill of the organisation and their sincerity in relation to this matter, the fact is that of the ten members of the board, five would be representative of the farming organisations, which is half the number of ordinary members of the board. It would be strange if they did not take into account the interests of the people they represent, who are the farmers. I am convinced that the establishment of advisory committees and their format in particular should be left to the discretion of the incoming board that will be representative of the farming organisations and the industry generally.
Mr. McMahon: I do not think we are against the matter being left to the  incoming organisation. The point the Minister is missing is that in the legislation as it is now proposed there is no obligation on him to set up any local committee. It merely states that they “may” but if they decide not to set them up then they need not set up any. I am sure if we were to research all the legislation that has been coming through the Oireachtas in our time, we would find that the Oireachtas ensures that the operation is carried through as we wish it to be carried through. While the Minister would wish that these local committees be set up, he is not ensuring that they would be set up.
I am concerned at the Minister's earlier reply when he stated that times change — I think he said times and structures change. Nobody here is against change and nobody will deny the Minister's view that times and structures change. Of course they do, and will continue to do so never more so than in our time. These are times when we have to be careful that we hold on to the democracy we have because we seem to be gobbled up by what is happening in the EC. We have to be extra careful to ensure that that does not happen and that we hold on to those structures of democracy which are so dear to this land.
The contribution of county committees down the years has been varied in many directions. They have made an enormous contribution in advising what should be done but also they were a very important link in disseminating and imparting much of the advice coming down from the Department and from advisers in agriculture. That link is now going to be lost. It will not be as easy to get across to the farming community the benefits of whatever advice may come in the future. I found that county committees down the years were an extremely important link in this regard. That has not been mentioned by any Senators but I would consider it an extremely important link and it is something that should not be overlooked by the Minister.
The case has been made strongly to  him and, with no disrespect to or reflection on the Minister of State, it is unfortunate that we do not have the Minister for Agriculture and Food here because the Minister of State might have his riding instructions but the Minister has not heard fully the arguments being made because the Second Stage debate was somewhat restricted. I do not want to go into that. It was pointed out to us last week that we were merely engaged in the Second Stage debate while the real debate could take place on Committee Stage. That is the debate that is taking place now. It is not possible for the Minister to be here and I think he informed us last week where he would be today. I respect that. It is unfortunate that we could not have waited for the Minister to be here. I do not mean any disrespect to the Minister of State but it is obvious that he has not been given the riding instructions to accept these amendments. It is regrettable, because we are sounding the death knell of a part of our democracy as we have known it for many decades.
Mr. Connor: Perhaps, a Chathaoirligh, you might appraise the Minister as to the present state of the debate.
An Cathaoirleach: We are on amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30 to section 17.
Mr. Connor: In fact, we are winding it up. This morning the Minister was in expansive mood and I felt he might have been also in a generous mood. He talked about his abiding principles in this matter, consultation, dissemination and consideration. That is what he told us this morning. This amendment in the name of two of my colleagues and in the name of Senator Ferris and two of his colleagues is about consultation, that is consulting with people throughout the country on the formulation of agricultural policy. I would ask the Minister to look at the long faces on his side of the House where there are members of county councils or rural communities who feel very unhappy with what is proposed in this measure and  unhappy that the Minister is refusing to accept this amendment.
My final appeal rests with the Minister. Would he go back to the mood in which he began this debate this afternoon when he said that his abiding principles in relation to putting through this measure were consultation, dissemination and also consideration?
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. O'Kennedy): I understand that my colleague, Deputy Walsh, has dealt with the amendments as they have been proposed and has explained the reasons why the provisions in the legislation are framed as they are. I apologise to the House for being absent from the House but I have been engaged in numerous consultations with European farm associations in Dublin this evening.
The consequence of the establishment of Teagasc is that the two existing associations that are being amalgamated under Teagasc — namely, An Foras Talúntais and ACOT — understandably and automatically are disbanded as such. The statutory link between ACOT and the county committees automatically becomes terminated if ACOT as an organisation is terminated. Then it follows that any association or committee linked to it directly automatically terminates as well. Therefore, it is a natural consequence of the amalgamation that ACOT and committees statutorily associated with it are disbanded.
Having said that, I do understand — and I said this in the Dáil and I will repeat it here — that not only is there a very strong feeling that there must be a local input, a real, not apparent, constant, not temporary, local input from the representative interests in whatever way they are best represented to the new Teagasc. I also indicated that I cannot anticipate what Teagasc should do. If I were to do that, I would actually be laying myself open to being accused of interfering immediately in the autonomy and direction of a new Authority. That I do not wish to do and the Government do not wish to do either. For that reason I can only do as the Minister of the day can  do at this point, and that is, point out to Teagasc, when it is established shortly, that it is the wish, not just of Government but of the representative parties in the Oireachtas and even beyond them, that there should be appropriate committees or consultations, formulae and procedures — not just procedures but structures for consultation — and I have little doubt that that will be done. I cannot anticipate what they will do.
I heard on the previous occasion here objective opinions expressed as to the role and relevance of the county committees as they operated. These vary from place to place. They have been particularly effective in some places; it is fair to say they have been rather ineffective in other places. At a time of revolutionary change in agriculture — my own mind has been sharpened by the consultations I have had most recently with the Dutch farm associations that are in Dublin this evening — I do not think any of us here who wants to promote the interests of agriculture is going to take the view that that can best be done in the future only by adhering to each and every structure of the past irrespective of what our objective judgment of each of them might be.
That is the only point I make to the House. We have a natural statutory consequence in the first instance and, in the second, I hope that the structure for consultation that will emerge under the new Authority will be sensitive and more effective in the future than the committee system across the board has been in the past. I hope I will not be misunderstood. I know that there have been very positive and consistent contributions here. I think I could actually just ask each Member of the House if he or she is satisfied that it has been an even contribution, that it has been a most effective contribution and I even think I could ask them: has it been the most effective structure for bringing Irish agriculture and all that it means in this legislation into line with present conditions, and not just farm production but more rural development? Has it been  the most effective advanced way of doing it?
That is the question I would like to put to the House. I would take the view, as the Government do, that the structures which served us well in the past are not the structures to serve us in the future. Having said that, I will be conveying very strongly to the new Authority before putting them in place the view of Government and of the representative parties of the Oireachtas which has been clearly reflected in all of these debates. The Bill does make provision for that. I am sure this point has been made so I do not think I need to labour it.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to make one small observation. I take on board what the Minister has said and I certainly do not doubt his sincerity, but he did say that the Minister cannot direct the new board of ten as to what to do. I accept that also; but the Oireachtas can, and we can write into this piece of legislation whatever we perceive as being in the best interests of the proposed service. If the Minister really believes in what he has just told the House, what is to stop him from accepting Senator Ferris's amendment which just asks that Teagasc shall establish committees to assist and advice in relation to the performance of its functions? That particular amendment does not ask for county committees; it does not ask for regional committees. It asks quite simply for an input from some of the people who it is hoped are going to benefit significantly from the new realignment, from this new service. I am at a loss to know why the Minister is not forthcoming on this point. I am absolutely fearful that nothing will be done because the last committees, by virtue of the fact that the Department of Finance decided that they were not going to be funded, were not even listened to. They had absolutely no function and we saw before our very eyes, as far as ACOT are concerned, highly trained and specialised advisers being desk-bound because there was not sufficient finance for them to go and visit a farm. Therefore, instead of becoming advisers with advice, whether  on crop husbandry or whatever, they became just pushers of paper. It is no wonder the industry is in a decline.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I do not mind objective argument, and I think the Leas-Chathaoirleach contributed in no small way through objective argument on the last occasion. However his last point I will have to take issue with him. If one makes a statement as he has just made, and I quote: “It is no wonder the industry is in a decline”, that is not the case.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister should visit some of the circuit courts and see how many——
Mr. O'Kennedy: I do not know how the Senator can say an industry is in decline when it has uniquely experienced what has not been experienced by any other economic sector in the country, even with renewal of investment in the last 12 months and more. If you are going to say it is in decline, you say it in the face of the facts. There is a 20 per cent plus increase in farm incomes. How can one say that is in decline? Look at the markets we are reaching across the whole range. Our milk prices are buoyant. I can say for the record now, a Chathaoirligh, that within weeks of tonight there will be further increases in that sector because of market buoyancy. Is that consistent with an industry in decline? It is not. Is that industry in decline where we have beef prices at an all time high right throughout the whole winter period? Is that consistent with an industry in decline? I do not mind Senators making a case, but please let them not make it in the face of the facts. If we are going to make arguments let us base them on facts. There may be a case for committees but not on the basis that Senator McDonald suggests.
Mr. Ferris: I want to be absolutely specific on the amendment I have down. The Minister talked about the autonomy he wants this board to have. In the previous section we interfered with some of  that autonomy because we were controlling everything, including their funds and what they might be able to do with their property. The Government will want to interfere whenever they like. Here is an area in which, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach has rightly said, the Oireachtas, which is providing the legislation giving the power to establish up this board, wants this board to act in a particular way to involve people in advising at some level other than national level. I have been absolutely specific in the way I put the amendment because I did not want a similar structure to the country committees under the ACOT Bill. We were foolish when we allowed the ACOT Bill to go through when it meant that we allowed the then committees to be emasculated, strangled, castrated, or any other word one wishes to use to indicate removing the effectiveness of a particular body.
Mr. Connor: No four letter words.
Mr. Ferris: They are accepted veterinary terminology in the agricultural world, including “castration”. It is a very effective operation if you want something to be useless. This is what happened to county committees because effectively their power was removed. We added to the elected members selected members from experts throughout the farming organisations. All of us were progressive enough to believe that they had a major contribution to make. It took them a while to get used to the position of those of us who were responsible to the electorate. That is a major responsibility. Only those of us who are elected are accountable finally at election time.
That did not apply to other people who were given the privilege of serving on these committees. We carried out the functions that were laid down in the Act. They were restrictive and they did not allow the use of much imagination. I even held a seminar in Agriculture House to try to brief members of county committees on what their new role was, how it was defined and their statutory role in setting up advisory programmes and  training for young farmers and for farmers at county level because each county was separate.
In this amendment I was following what the Minister and the Government and the parliamentary draftsman obviously considered was an option for the new board, that they may establish committees to assist and advise them in relation to the performance of their functions. I want to be absolutely specific. I want the Houses of the Oireachtas to tell this board that they should appoint these committees. I listened to the Minister speak about when he would be making the regulations in regard to the formation of the committees, who would serve on them, what their role would be, at what level they would sit, whether at county or any other level. The county is an acceptable administrative unit in relation to agriculture and has been proven to be by the Minister and previous Ministers.
I am just being absolutely specific in that the Oireachtas are requesting the new board, Teagasc, to establish committees. They shall not have any option but they shall appoint and then we will be in line with what the Minister said. The Minister has assured us that he has no doubt that this will happen. The one way I can be really assured is if he accepts this amendment as it is. Then we will sit down and discuss it. I did not include an amendment that would require this subcommittee to pay expenses to people because I felt that the Minister was hung up on these miserable expenses that were paid to a few county committee of agriculture members. I just said that they may be paid. It is an option. They may pay these people or they may not pay them. It should be optional. If there is no obligation there is no charge on the Exchequer, but there will be at least some process of consultation and advice in the compilation of their advisory programme, their research programme and their educational programme, because we are now talking about our children who would have an interest in agriculture  and the kind of input and programme that we would like them to benefit from.
How can you do that? Do you depend on some body, half of which the Minister will appoint, the director of which he will appoint and the rest of whom will be nominated? Do we depend on that body to be able to disseminate down along the ranks to ordinary farmers? Do we expect the ordinary farmers to have any input whatsoever in what that programme would be? The Minister is missing an opportunity to tap into that voluntary expertise that is available and has been available over half a century. I realise that abolishing ACOT abolishes the county committees but I am also advising the Minister that the setting up of Teagasc with this responsibility that they shall appoint committees is also legislation and it will give them no option. He cannot be blamed for it. I will accept the responsibility if the Minister accepts the amendment. He can put it on my head and every Fianna Fáil councillor in the country will welcome it. The Minister is aware of it, because he has met them and the Taoiseach has met them and there was pleading from every unit of your organisation throughout the country, on every county council, committee, general council and all the bodies that we have all served on. They want this kind of statutory role to be built into this Bill. I hope the Minister will do so.
Mr. McCormack: I, too, would urge the Minister to accept this amendment to have local committees set up, possibly on a county basis, to replace the county committees of agriculture which have been abolished. I was privileged to serve for a number of years on my own Galway County Committee of Agriculture and on the General Council of Committees of Agriculture. I know those people made a solid contribution to the affairs of agriculture within their counties and on a national basis through the General Council of County Committees of Agriculture. It is a most reasoned argument that such a forum should be set up again, possibly based on the counties, when Teagasc is set up. This is the only opportunity we  have. It is all right for the Minister to give an assurance here. This is the only say we, as legislators, will have in the matter to ensure that this is written into the Bill when it becomes law.
I would appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment without a division of this House. I notice that we have two Fianna Fáil Senators and councillors present, one rural and one urban. Do not put the Fianna Fáil Senators who are also councillors and former members of committees of agriculture to the embarrassment of having to vote against this amendment. I know that in their hearts they do not want to vote against this amendment. I know from my own colleagues on Galway County Council that they wish to have a body representative of the elected members. I appeal to the Minister to accept this reasonable amendment. We will all agree on that. It would be the will of all the people here if they had a free conscience and a free vote on the matter.
Mr. Connor: The Minister was not here for the main contributions but he said on Second Stage in the Dáil that county committees of agriculture existed as some kind of quangos that existed only for——
Mr. O'Kennedy: I did not say that.
Mr. Connor: The implication might have been that they existed only for the collection of travelling expenses. We explained that the only funding that was made available to these people was for travelling. Certainly there was no contribution made to them for the time they lost. I would also like to take up a point made by the Minister in relation to decline or growth in the value or the output of agriculture in the last year. It may not be totally relevant but the Minister raised it. I would remind the Minister when he speaks about growth in agriculture that last year cattle numbers decreased by 5 per cent. I am sure he knows that milk production, by quota restriction, decreased by 1½ per cent, that pig numbers decreased by 1 per cent and  that cow numbers decreased by almost 4 per cent. Those are the figures supplied to me by An Foras Talúntais.
The Minister said this morning that he had total confidence in their research and in the advice they offer. That is an industry in decline. That is the only way you can measure whether an industry is growing or whether it is declining. It is not the value. We have the fortunate accident now of the value increasing in the market because for the first time — and we are not taking advantage of the opportunities before us — the supply market is below equilibrium on the right side for us. We have had a fall in milk output because of the quota restriction. The fall in pig meat output is because we have not got a policy for the pig meat industry. Admittedly, our sheep output went up by 8 per cent last year, that is on the positive side, but on all the other enterprises we went down. These figures were supplied by the Minister's own Department and — more importantly because I would have to take greater heed of them — by An Foras Talúntais.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I will just take the first points that have been made by Senator Connor. He points out that there was a decline in cattle numbers of 5 per cent last year and that the milk quota restriction meant there was a reduction in milk output last year. That is a fact. I think Senator Connor is close enough to rural life to know that, if there was a decline in cattle numbers of 5 per cent last year, the cause of that was not last year but previous years. You do not suddenly press a button and produce a three year old bullock for slaughter in a factory. It is what you do in 1985 that gives you the cattle population of 1988 and the consequences of what you did not do in 1985 is what we may be witnessing in 1987 and 1988. I am glad to tell Senator Connor — and I think he would want to know this as well, and the figures will also indicate it — that that trend is well and truly changing. We would want to recognise this fact. Slaughterings of cows and heifers this year are down by 20 per cent over last year. That in itself could be  argued either way beyond the reassuring fact, which Senators may not want to consider, that artificial inseminations are up almost 15 per cent this year over last year. These are facts. What does that represent? As I have said many times, Government policy, and not just that of the Minister for Agriculture and Food, is directed to ensuring the improvement of the economic environment in which farmers operate by bringing down interest rates, by reducing cost inputs and by bringing down inflation. All of this has meant that farmers, being prudent managers, are now retaining their cows and not sending them to slaughter. They are now inseminating them where previously they were slaughtering them.
The facts are there. It has to be acknowledged, and the farmers know that conditions have improved considerably. I regret if there are some who would prefer to conceal those facts, but those are the realities. There is no point in anyone here trying to give the impression that an industry is in decline which is making a remarkable recovery and is attacking the markets in a way that will ensure that we will see consistently buoyant prices. That is the commitment of this Government in everything we do in all our range of our actions, either in dairying or in beef. Farmers know that Irish agriculture, in the broadest sense of agriculture, is now in a buoyant situation, will continue that way and that no amount of talk is going to put it into depression.
The second point is this. If there are milk quota restrictions, of course they apply all round; and, as I said before, that is a consequence of decisions that were taken before we came into Government. I am not going to make any boast that we could have done a better job. They were European decisions and we inherited the decisions. It is fair to say that in inheriting them we have managed the consequences much better than had been done previously. We are ensuring that we do not lose one gallon of milk. This is being done through the whole milk restructuring programmes we have  introduced and through new leasing programmes in milk which have not been done anywhere else. The product supply in Ireland in the dairy sector is much better than tht available anywhere else in Europe, and this is one of the advantages we have to use. The Dutch and the Germans are coming over here to launch joint ventures with us because they know that we have the product they do not have. In the face of those facts — the buoyant prices and the market attack we are pursuing vigorously — please do not tell us that we are looking at an agricultural industry in decline, because we are not.
I come back now to the point that has been made by Senator Ferris on the committee issue, which is the one we are dealing with. Senator Ferris's amendment says “shall” not “may”. I am to give a direction to do something which, as Senator Ferris sees it, represents the wishes of the Oireachtas. This is not as I see it, as it happens, nor the farming associations — that you “shall” establish committees. You do not even tell them in that ministerial direction what kind of committees they shall establish. You are just telling them: “It does not matter; you shall establish committees”. I am not prepared to tell any Authority, or the Government are not, and I represent here the wishes of the Government. I am not prepared to tell any Authority: “You shall establish committees for whatever purpose or wherever, possibly or probably based on counties”. I cannot do that. Let me give you some examples why I cannot.
We are talking about a new rural development in all its forms. Everything that is included in this is very different from what has been done before. The county committees did not deal with private forestry, but they can now. They did not deal with agri-tourism, but they can now. They could not deal with a whole range of things in terms of rural development — it could be rural infrastructures, small industries, craft industries — but they can now. All of these things are open to those committees that will be  established by what will be a representative, enlightened Authority. I am not prepared to tell them: “You shall establish committees” and the Government are not prepared to issue them with an edict of that kind. That is not the way we deal with things. We do not say: “You shall establish committees” and then: “Whatever the committee's function will be is another day's work; we are telling you to establish them anyway”. That does not make sense.
What I have said — and it is a matter of bona fides — is that we have given them the power here. Let me say openly and honestly that I would expect the new Authority would require at least six months to reflect on the kind of local or county or whatever representative input they want, dealing with various types of activities, be it agriculture in a conventional sense or other matters across the range of agriculture — beef, dairy, cereals and so on, alternative land usage, things we never even contemplated when these committees were set up years ago. The Government want to display that much trust in Teagasc. I do not think that by implication you can denigrate it on the basis that the Minister, on behalf of the Government, will nominate people. It is not our intention to put people into a body that is of such importance for the future just for the sake of somehow suppressing development in Irish agriculture. We do not have that death wish for ourselves or for Irish agriculture. We do not intend to do that, and the facts will prove it.
That is as far as I can go. Believe me, I am not resisting this for the sake of doing so, far from it. I think the arguments speak for themselves. As I have already indicated, I will convey on my own behalf and that of the Government our views to Teagasc that they should as soon as is feasible consider an appropriate form of committee both in terms of its constitution and in terms of its activities. It may vary from place to place. The structures are different in different parts of Irish agriculture, and we all know that. In 1988 let us start using the instruments of 1988. I can only say that I wish  the Dutch gentlemen that I have been speaking to were in to listen to this debate. We want to go out and beat those fellows — not compete with them, beat them — but we are not going to do it by harping back to old ways and old instruments.
Mr. Connor: May I make one final point? May I just say finally that when the Minister was giving the title to this body he did not say to them: “You may be called that awful word Teagasc;” he said: “You shall be called Teagasc.” The term “shall”, where it suited the Minister and suited the Government, recurs over and over again throughout the Bill.
Mr. Ferris: May I clarify two words the Minister used? He said that it would be too demonstrative for the Government and himself to use the word “shall” in respect of this board. First of all, he said that it should not be at the wishes of the farming organisations.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I did not.
Mr. Ferris: He did. He said that it would not be his wish, the Government's wish or the wish of the farming organisations. Maybe it was the IFA he was talking about. If they want to get into this House, they get elected to it.
Mr. O'Kennedy: Do not misunderstand that.
Mr. Ferris: I want to be very specific. This is a House of legislation, not just some nominating body. This is a House that sets down laws and it requires certain things to be done. The Minister, in a further part of his response, said that he and the Government would contact this board and tell them that they should set them up. What is the difference in the past tense of “should” and the present tense of “shall”? There is no difference whatsoever. Either they should or they should not do it. That they “may” do it is a totally different option. They may or may not do it. He is telling us now that  he will ring up and tell them that they should do it.
I am telling him to legislate that they shall do it. It is as simple as that. There is no big stick about it. It is not the same structure as before. It is nothing like the old county committee. It is none of these things. It is the requirement to consult with experts at whatever level and I am quite sure that if the board had this direction they would come back to the Minister for advice, and advice from the Government, about what sort of structures the Houses of the Oireachtas required. He can then bring regulations before us for discussion and we might make recommendations about the kind of people that should be involved in this, and we would be only happy to do so.
Senator McCormack rose.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Before I call on the Senator, the Chair would respectfully point out that this amendment has got a fairly full airing. I would hope that there would not be undue repetition.
Mr. McCormack: It will be our last chance to do what our duty demands of us. From that point of view, you will have to be patient with us. The Minister referred to livestock numbers. My first profession is as a livestock auctioneer and I can assure the Minister that livestock numbers are down in all the western marts. That is just to put the record straight on that.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: With respect, Senator, it hardly comes under section 17.
Mr. McCormack: I did not raise the matter in the first instance but I would like to set the record straight. I would not be happy with the Minister's assurance here, well meaning and all as it may be, that he would advise that those committees should be set up. I recall that the last assurance we got from a Minister landed me in an awful lot of trouble when  I accepted the assurance from the Minister of State that legislation being introduced to put licences on fishing rods had the support of all——
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: That is absolutely irrelevant.
Mr. McCormack: It is not irrelevant because I innocently took the assurance of the Minister at that time, albeit a different Minister. I would not lightly take the assurance of a Minister that he would advise that a committee should be set up. I support the amendment and I hope it will get the unanimous support of all Senators.
Mr. McMahon: I believe the Minister is grossly underestimating the value of these local committees. He is making far too much of the difference between “may” and “shall”. As I said earlier, before the Minister arrived, I am sure that if we were to check the legislation that has gone through in recent times there are many precedents where Ministers enshrined in legislation for bodies being set up that they shall appoint advisers or committees or whatever. I have been really appalled in the last few minutes. I made a plea earlier that it was a pity we did not have this debate with the Minister present, that it was the Minister of State who was here.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: In fairness, Senator McMahon, the Minister of State endeavoured at all times to handle the points raised and we should not have repetition of points. I would ask you to be brief and to speak to amendment No. 30, if you would, please.
Mr. McMahon: I believe the Minister would not regret it if he were to accede to these amendments at least in part if not in full. He spoke earlier of allowing a time to see how it would work out. Even if he were to accede to the amendment and then give it some time to see how it worked out he could change it at a further date. To wipe out all these committees all over the country with a  stroke of the pen is not the answer. Granted, over the last few years their powers have been diminished and they have not played as great a part as they did previously, but to eliminate them as is suggested in this legislation is too harsh a decision and it is one that I am sure the Minister will live to regret. I was appalled at the Minister's last two contributions. I thought I was listening to a political broadcast or an Ard-Fheis speech where he was outlining the benefits accruing to agriculture since he took office. I could take the Minister to farms not too far from where we are sitting just now where, in the last six months, the banks have a greater interest in the farm than the farmer. I could take the Minister to a farm less than a half an hour from here where the farmer, his wife and two children drove out of that yard and emigrated, leaving the farm behind them because they owed more than the farm was worth. That is not too far from this city.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Chair must put the question.
Mr. McMahon: It happened in the last four months. I appeal to the Minister, although he has come in here with a stonewall attitude, for the betterment of agriculture and for the betterment of democracy to ensure that Teagasc could form local committees if not on a county basis certainly on a two-county basis, although I do not like that idea. I believe that the smaller the locality the greater the volume of the advice coming from it. Let me again make the point to the Minister that it is not only the advice that one would get from these committees of  agriculture but also their value in bringing back into agriculture the advice that he or his advisers would wish farmers to take into account. It is a two-way process. They are an extremely important link and I would ask the Minister not to break the link with this legislation.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is the amendment withdrawn?
Mr. Bradford: May I make a brief comment? I will not repeat what I said earlier but I must express my disappointment with the final comments of the Minister in which he indicated clearly that he saw the future development of Irish agriculture almost ruling out entirely any of the functions or bodies which were part of the agricultural scene up to the present day. If that is his attitude then we can see straightaway the reasons why Teagasc may, rather than, shall set up sub-committees. He stated that he does not want to bear down on them with a heavy hand and that they must have a great deal of discretion but, as Senator Connor rightly stated, the Bill is full of instructions about what Teagasc shall do. They have very little discretion. If the Minister is seriously committed to seeing a system of sub-committees set up throughout the country the word “shall” should be inserted here, but from what we have heard here tonight he is not. I regret that, but it is quite clear that he does not see the same role for county committees or sub-committees as we do. I believe that we should press ahead with our amendment.
Question put: “That the words proposed to be deleted stand”.
The Committee divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 11.
|Bohan, Edward Joseph.
Fitzsimons, Jack. O'Callaghan, Vivian.
Ó Conchubhair, Nioclás.
|Haughey, Seán F.
Mulroy, Jimmy. Ryan, William.
Ross, Shane P.N.
Tellers: Tá, Senators W. Ryan and S. Haughey; Níl, Senators Fennell and Bradford.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Mr. Ferris: I move amendment No. 29:
In page 14, subsection (1) line 24, after “functions” to insert “and shall establish, in each county, at least one local advisory forum which shall be a committee within the terms of this section”.
The Committee divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 19.
Ross, Shane P.N.
|Bohan, Edward Joseph.
Haughey, Seán F.
Ó Conchubhair, Nioclás.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Bradford and Fennell; Níl, Senators W. Ryan and S. Haughey.
Amendment declared lost.
Mr. Ferris: I move amendment No. 30:
In page 14, subsection (2), line 25, to delete “may” and substitute “shall”.
Question put: “That the word proposed to be deleted stand.”
The Committee divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 8.
|Bohan, Edward Joseph.
Haughey, Seán F.
Ó Conchubhair, Nioclás.
Ross, Shane P.N.
Tellers: Tá, Senators W. Ryan and S. Haughey; Níl, Senators Ferris and O'Shea.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Mr. Lanigan: On the Order of Business this morning it was suggested that we would not meet after 12 o'clock. I propose that progress be reported on this Bill.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Mr. Lanigan: It is proposed to sit at 10.30 a.m.
Mr. Ferris: Could the Leader of the House give us an indication of the business for tomorrow?
Mr. Lanigan: Tomorrow morning at 10.30 the Order of Business will be decided.
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